I’ve been looking for a new word for what my job is. ‘Editor’ covers any number of things, but they feel mostly corrective – an editor fixes your mistakes, checks your spelling and grammar. I do that, but it’s the least of my jobs. A character consultant, plot engineer, story shaman? What do I call myself?
A story is like haiku, or other constrained forms of poetry. With haiku, you have a certain number of syllables, a certain number of lines – a very specific set of rules. But within those rules, you can say whatever you want to.
A story is like a building. You can design the building, and draw out where all the rooms should be, and make a computer simulation, but to make that building a reality, it’s time to hire an engineer. That professional will make sure the building you designed stands up without falling down, that it’s built strongly and to code – but it’s still your building.
A story is like a dance set to music. Someone dancing a waltz can express joy, sadness, fear or whatever he likes, but the waltz will always be in three-four time, or it will no longer be a waltz.
My task as an editor is to be the dance master, the engineer, the poet’s consultant. It’s not my job to change, overwhelm, correct or browbeat your fiction. My task is to know where the guidelines are and when you can safely ignore them. To mediate between the ‘rules’ of writing and the deeper reality of your story, so that it will be presented in the way that best draws the intended reaction from the readers.